Past Perfect Exercises

This is a grammar lesson about the Past Perfect, with Past Perfect exercises and activities for students to practise this often neglected tense! You will find a free printout of this lesson at the bottom of the page.

Grammar Presentation


Subject +had +(adverb) +Past Participle
(He'd) Hehadjustfinished his dinner.
They(hadn't) had notbought the tickets.
(I'd) Ihadstupidlymissed the bus.


Had +(not)Subject +(adverb) +Past Participle
Hadshedeliberatelyleft the key there?
Hadn't (had not)hecalled to remind them?
Hadhereallyfinished school by then?

Uses of the Past Perfect

1. The past perfect shows a completed action before something in the past.

When I arrived at the party, she had already left.

She came to fetch me, but I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet.

I had never seen such a beautiful beach before I went to Hawaii.

Had you ever visited London before your trip in 2001?

2. It shows the duration before something in the past with non-continuous verbs

We had had that car for twelve years before it broke down.

By the time you met her, I had already known her for a long time.

By the time I finished studying, I had been in London for six years.

3. Non-specific and specific times in the past

If the Past Perfect action happened at a specific time, the Simple Past can be used as well as the Past Perfect when ‘before’ is used in the sentence, as ‘before’ indicates the timescale. BOTH the following sentences are correct:

I had been to London once in 1997, before I moved there in 1999.

I was in London once in 1997, before I moved there in 1999.

But if specific times are not mentioned, we HAVE to use the past perfect:

I had been to London once before I moved there.

I was in London once before I moved there. THIS IS INCORRECT

4. The past tense of the present perfect

I have never seen him before.

We’ve just finished dinner.

They haven’t painted the front gate.

Why haven’t they tidied up?

I had never seen him before.

We had just finished dinner.

They hadn’t painted the front gate

Why hadn’t they tidied up?

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5. Indirect Speech

In Indirect Speech, the tense of the main verb is influenced by the statement or question that is spoken. The following tenses in direct speech, will take on the Past Perfect in Indirect Speech:

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
Simple PastPast Perfect
Past ContinuousPast Perfect Continuous
Present PerfectPast Perfect
Present Perfect ContinuousPast Perfect Continuous
Past PerfectPast Perfect
Past Perfect ContinuousPast Perfect Continuous

  • Mary said, “I washed the dishes.”
  • Mary said that she had washed the dishes.
  • John added, “I was mowing the lawn."
  • John added that he had been mowing the lawn.
  • Mary concluded, “I have done most of the work.’
  • Mary concluded that she had done most of the work.
  • John interjected, “but I have been working the whole week.”
  • John interjected that he had been working the whole week.
  • Mary answered, “If you had worked faster you could have had some time off.”
  • Mary answered that if he had worked faster, he could have had some time off.
  • John said, “if it hadn’t been raining all week , that might have been possible.”
  • John said that if it hadn’t been raining all week, that might have been possible.

Past Perfect Exercises

Past Perfect Exercises - 1

Give each of the students a pile of small, blank pieces of paper. On each of the cards, they need to write an activity e.g. wash dishes, knit a jersey, mow the lawn etc

Once they have completed all their cards, gather them together, mix them up and place them face down on the table. The students need to take it in turns to choose two cards, make a decision about which order the two activities happened in, and then give a sentence using the Past Perfect e.g.

wash dishes + mow the lawn

I had already washed the dishes when I mowed the lawn.

Past Perfect Exercises - 2

Write on the board:

When I was born…..

The students need to make a list of things that had happened before they were born, and things that hadn’t happened by the time they were born. They need to tell the other students what items they have come up with, using the following structure:

When I was born, the computer hadn’t been invented yet.

When I was born, the Berlin wall had already come down

The other students can then try and guess which year they were born.

Past Perfect Exercises - 3

Give each of the students a pile of blank flashcards. On each of the cards, they need to write an important event in history e.g. the fall of the Roman Empire, the building of the pyramids, World War One, the discovery of electricity etc. Once they have finished, gather the cards, mix them up and place the them face down.

The first student picks up two cards, and places them in the correct historical order, giving a sentence in the Past Perfect e.g. The pyramids had already been built when the First World War started.

The second student picks up one more card, and places it in the correct historical location, giving a sentence in the Past Perfect, using their new historical event, and one that is already in the sequence e.g. The Roman Empire had already fallen when World War One started.

The students need to continue until all the cards have been used up and they are all in the correct historical order. If there is any doubt about the order, the students can research it for homework and come back with the correct sequence at the next lesson.

Past Perfect Exercises - 4

Give the students six blank flashcards each. On each flashcard they have to write a sentence in direct speech, one in each of the following tenses:

Past Simple, Past Continuous, Present Perfect, Present Perfect Continuous, Past Perfect, Past Perfect Continuous

Gather all the cards together, mix them up and place them face down on the table. The students take it in turn to pick up one card, and change the sentence into indirect speech.

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